Town meeting preview: Will Casco voters give roads bond green light?

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — It is difficult to predict how a town meeting might go — what might be passed, what might be discussed at length before being passed, and what might not meet the approval of residents.

In Casco, which holds its Town Meeting on Wednesday, June 15 at 7 p.m., at the Casco Fire Station, there are a handful of bond-related Warrant Articles.

Three of the Warrant Articles deal with the issuing of bonds to take care of the town’s infrastructure. In this case, infrastructure means the reconstruction of a few town roads that have been eating up road maintenance dollars and the replacement of a dam that is no longer viable.

Warrant Articles 11, 12 and 13 present voters with basically four options.

Residents could approve a $2.5 million bond or they could opt for a $1.3 million bond, or they could turn down both bonds and only approve borrowing money for the dam replacement. The last option would be that residents say ”no” to all three bonds.

The bonds being considered would have a 10-year maturity, according to a copy of the Warrant Articles for Town Meeting.

Currently, the Town of Casco has no outstanding debt — with the exception of the $600,000 approved at last year’s Town Meeting for the new town office. That project began in early May, and the town has used a Bond Anticipation Note (BAN) to pay for the construction project so far.

On Wednesday night, voters will be considering the largest bond first. The $2.5 million bond would provide funding for road reconstruction and also for the replacement of the Pleasant Lake Parker Pond Dam that has been failing to hold back water for about two years. The roads on the work list include Edwards Road, Johnson Hill Road, and the short stretch of Cooks Mills Road and sections of Tenney Hill Road.

The $2.5 million bond would give residents the most infrastructure improvements. The impact on the local tax rate would be 41 cents, or $61.50 per $150,000 valuation of property.

The $1.3 million bond would cover the cost of the dam replacement and allow the town to complete some of the road reconstruction projects. The smaller bond would have a 21-cent impact on the annual tax rate, which correlates to $31.95 per $150,000 property valuation.

Several years ago, the Casco Board of Selectmen purchased road assessment software used by the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT). The software calculates which roads need work first. That is based on the quality of the road and the usage of the road.

For Casco Town Manager Dave Morton, who also serves as road commissioner, it was easy to see that Edwards Road and Johnson Hill Road are in need of reconstruction. In fact, the town would save money in its road repair account if those roads were reconstructed and ditch work was done, he said.

Also, the passage of an infrastructure bond does not negate the need for road maintenance money — especially since one tumultuous thunderstorm can cause significant damage to area roads, Morton said.

“We work with whatever the town provides and do the best we can. However, we need at least $300,000 per year for maintenance and regular paving over and above reconstruction efforts, just to maintain our roads without falling behind,” Morton said.

The reconstruction of Libby Road, off Quaker’s Ridge Road, took four years to complete while other roads were still on the waiting list.

The selectmen as well as the Casco Finance Committee have voted to recommend the passage of an infrastructure bond. Although they voted to recommend both bonds, only one can be passed.

The way the Warrant Articles are set up, if voters view the $2.5 million bond favorably, they won’t have to vote on the other two. If the first bond is voted down, voters will turn their attention to the $1.3 million bond.

At the Town Meeting, the selectmen plan to explain to residents that the Pleasant Lake Dam must be fixed to comply with water levels set by Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), according to Morton. Otherwise, the town will face fines from the state, he said.

Last year at the Town Meeting, the voters did okay the expenditure of money for the engineering plans and the bid package for the dam. At the time, it was understood that this was a two-phase, two-year project. Additionally, the cost of the project is split equally with the Town of Otisfield. The amount being requested for the dam replacement is $250,000.

The cost of the dam upgrade is included in each of the proposed infrastructure bonds.

Another topic, a new budgetary item is the proposed staffing at the Casco Fire Station.

A few years ago, the Casco Fire and Rescue Department began paying a stipend to “man” the firehouse during the daytime hours. This approach has two prongs: It shortened the response time to emergency calls and it retained the volunteer ranks by paying people. According to Chief Jason Moen, this proved to be successful.

Warrant Article 7 addresses the budgeting of stipends so that the station can be staffed during the evening hours. The proposed budget is $91,999 more than last year, Morton said.

Warrant Article 25 is a new item. For slightly less than $6,000 the town could have a Harbor Master. If passed, a part-time seasonal position would be created.

According to Morton, what is being proposed is a 20-hour per week position that would last 12 weeks during the months of June, July and August.

Because of the bond-related Warrant Articles, it is difficult to pin down the exact total of the 2016-17 municipal budget. Copies of the Warrant Articles and supporting paperwork are available at the Casco Town Office. People can also view or print out a copy by going to the Town of Casco’s website.

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